In the United States approximately 50% of marriages end in separation or divorce and many of those relationships include children. As a result, many families find themselves in a position of learning how to co-parent.
Co-parenting is the process of two or more caregivers coming together to parent and raise children, typically following a separation, divorce or custody determination.
There is a lot of information out there about the best ways to raise and parent children, but there is very little on how to collaborate with others when no longer a united family unit. I have outlined 5 main tenets to follow when entering into world of co-parenting.
Values = Beliefs and principles that help guide one's behaviors towards a meaningful life.
Ex: honesty, humor, independence, adventure, etc.
Families often share common values; however, they may vary in terms of level of importance and means of achieving those values.
It is vital to explore personal and family values AND how those are enacted. For example, if there is a family value of safety and security, what does that look like for each parent and how can that be enacted across both households.
Ineffective communication is often one of the biggest barriers to successful co-parenting. Establishing consistent means of communication is important. This may take the form of primarily communicating via emails, scheduled phone calls, or routine face-to-face meetings.
One of the most important aspects of co-parenting communication is to avoid using the child or children as means of communicating between caregivers. Intra-parental conflict and triangulation (putting the child in the middle) are considered two of the leading contributors to negative well-being in children of divorced families. This also pertains to talking negatively about other caregivers in front of the child.
Simply, keep the communication consistent, civil and without the child acting as the messenger.
Among many things in life, consistency is key.
It is important to establish consistency across both households whenever possible. This may include:
- Daily routines (ex: bedtime)
- Access to technology
- Functional consequences for misbehavior
- Reinforcement/praise for accomplishment
- Responsibilities & chores
Decision-making abilities are often determined during the divorce/separation and custody proceedings; however, it is important to continue communicating and agreeing upon who, how, and when decisions are made regarding children.
Common decision-making domains:
- Medical & Psychological care
Transitions between households can be one of the primary stressors for caregivers and children
Considerations for transitions:
- Keep the hand-off consistent (ex: same day each week)
- Provide reminders to children of upcoming transitions
- Model flexibility if plans change
- Establish a low-demand activity when children arrive home and avoid high- demand responsibilities
- Ex: have a snack together and talk about their favorite TV show rather than jumping into homework or asking details about their time with other caregiver(s)
Despite establishing clear and consistent routines, expectations and communication, as children age and new demands arise, you will have to revisit these tenets.